A Day in the Life

“Woke up, fell out of bed, dragged a comb across my head … ” — The Beatles, A Day in the Life

Each day, I wake up at 7:15. I go downstairs to wash my face and brush my teeth in the bathroom. Then I come back up to my room to apply my makeup, style my hair (if I bother), and get dressed.

Next, I head downstairs for breakfast. I usually have yogurt and a cup of coffee.

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I gather my things and walk to the taxi stand at the end of my road.

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I carpool with my site mates and my language teacher to a larger, nearby village for training and language class. We all live in the same village (different houses, though, ha).

Sierra offered to take this selfie for me from the front seat. In the back (l-r) is our other site mate, Charlie; our language teacher, Kushtrim; and me. Doesn’t our taxi driver look thrilled to be included in our photo?

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Okay, so here’s where we are going to split, in a “Sliding Doors” kind of way. Certain days of the week are “HUB days,” which is where the entire Peace Corps trainee group meets for presentations and lectures. Some trainings are specific to Kosovo, while others are mandated by the Peace Corps office in D.C. (meaning that trainees all over the world must receive the same trainings). Our trainings are held in the conference room of a hotel. Here is the patio where we sit for breaks and for lunch. (The hotel is at the very top of a big hill/mountain, meaning that there isn’t anywhere else to go.)

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And here is the conference room itself. It is nice, but does not have air conditioning (or fans). On hot days, it probably nears 100 degrees in that room.

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On days we have Albanian language classes, we split into smaller groups and meet with our respective teachers. My group meets in this school (the same school where we met our host families for the first time).

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We like to spend our breaks at this nearby café. They play A LOT of Bob Marley.

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We also try to time our bathroom breaks then. Our school has a squatty potty, while the café has a much nicer bathroom. Squattys were all over China, which I expected when I visited there in 2012, but I did not expect them in Kosovo. They do not seem as common as “Western style” toilets, though.

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Which would you prefer?

On days when we have language lessons in the morning, our afternoons are either spent doing team building exercises or cultural learning, or we have TEFL training (teaching English as a foreign language).

After that, I carpool home with Sierra and Charlie, and sometimes Kushtrim (if he’s still around), or another Peace Corps trainee.

Once I get home, I usually spend an hour or so in my room. I like to chill out, read email, blog, and surf the Internet.

Then, I usually take a book or language homework out to the garden. There I read and play with the kitten until it’s time for dinner.

My host mother and I often take a walk after dinner. We have such a pretty view!

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I’ve been going to bed early lately. I shower and am in bed by 10:00. (And sometimes, it is earlier than that!)

The Big Reveal

On Thursday, we finally found out where our permanent sites will be. And my site is … well, I can’t tell you publicly. (pppeeewww … Imagine the sound of air rapidly leaving a balloon.)

It’s against Peace Corps policy for us to name our cities or villages on social media. (If you are a friend or family member, I can tell you via phone or email.)

Here’s the most surprising thing about my placement: My new village is Catholic, NOT Islamic. Catholic Albanians are in the minority in Kosovo. (But perhaps you’ve heard of Mother Theresa? 😛 She’s the world’s most famous Catholic Albanian.)

I had zero say in where I was placed. The Peace Corps staff claims the only factor for placement consideration was our resumes. (I don’t know what on my resume said, “Put her in a Catholic village!” Maybe the fact that I attended a Catholic university? But then, so did other people in my group.)

Anyway, I am getting WAY ahead of myself. Let me walk you through these last few days, because they have been emotionally exhausting. I am tired of having emotions. Could someone take them away from me, please?

Last Thursday morning, we were given the name of our permanent cites. Then we returned to the hotel where we first stayed upon our arrival in Kosovo. This is where we all met our “counterparts,” meaning, our professional points of contact for the next two years. Since I’ll be teaching English as a Second Language, I was paired with a teacher named Dardan who teaches in the village where I’ll be living.

Friday was an all-day teacher training with our counterparts. Then on Saturday morning, I met Dardan at the hotel, and we departed for my new village via bus. After meeting Dardan’s family and the director of my school, Dardan drove me to my new host family’s home.

My new host family is similar in structure to my current host family: two parents with grown sons. The new fam has a son in Switzerland, and a son who attends university in Pristina. (He was there, and his English is fair. My new parents don’t speak much English.)

Their house is huge and very modern. When I joined the Peace Corps, I did not imagine I would be living in such a nice place. I thought I would have to adapt to bathing in a wooden tub in the middle of the yard or something.

My new home has a large room off the garage that functions as a second kitchen/informal dining space/pantry. It feels very familiar to me. It reminds me of the Christmas party we have with my (real) dad’s cousins in Michigan every year, which is usually held in someone’s basement. All weekend, whenever I would enter that room, comfort and homesickness would roll through me.

So, Saturday was overwhelming. I was homesick for my current village and host family. I was homesick for my real family. The idea of moving again and bonding with a new family seemed daunting.

But then I got a good night’s sleep (not really the norm for me). I woke up Sunday morning feeling better. As I washed my breakfast dishes, I began to think about the kindness and hospitality I’ve experienced since moving to Kosovo. My new host family agreed to let a stranger live with them for two years. I can’t imagine doing something like that. I feel undeserving of such generosity.

[Here’s something funny: I got to experience a new interpretation of my name. (My current host family calls me, “Ah-preel.”) When my new host mom shouted through the front door, “Preela! Preela!” it took me a while to realize she was calling me. :)]

I returned to my current village yesterday. I thought, “Home,” stepping off the bus. As I walked up the driveway, I saw my host parents sitting in the garden. Mace and the kitten were both at their feet. It was a nice picture to come home to. I will be sad to say goodbye to all of them next month.

 

 

 

Money

“The best things in life are free
But you can keep ’em for the birds and bees
Now give me money (that’s what I want)” — The Beatles, Money (That’s What I Want)

So … money in the Peace Corps. There isn’t any. The end.

No, just kidding. Oh, not about the no-money part. That’s true. I just meant I have a little more to say about it …

I mentioned I am in PST (pre-service training) for the Peace Corps. Here’s how the money situation works right now. The Peace Corps gives me:

  1. Rent money, which they give directly to me, and which I give to my host family. This is to cover the cost of my expenses (feeding me three times per day, water and electricity I use, etc.).
  2. Transportation money (I take a taxi to training every day, 1 Euro each way)
  3. And … 2 Euro per day as “walking around money,” which I receive as a monthly lump sum.

I know! 2 Euro per day doesn’t sound like much, does it? But let’s break down the cost of some common things I buy:

  1. Macchiato — 50 cents
  2. Chocolate croissant — 40 cents
  3. Piece of pizza — 40 cents
  4. Chicken sandwich from our favorite chicken sandwich place — $1.50 Euro
  5. Postage to the United States (per item) — about $2.50, depending on what it is
  6. Package of gum — 40 cents
  7. Pack of travel tissue — 9 cents (Seriously, when was the last time you bought anything for 9 cents? Never?)

Here is a receipt from lunch at a nice restaurant. The total cost was 7 Euro for 3 people. We all had a bottle of water. Charlie and I each got a hamburger and fries, while Sierra got a margarita pizza. (This sounds like the beginning of a textbook math problem, but I promise, no math is involved.)

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For those of you who are all like, “I can’t visit you in Kosovo. It’s so expensive!” My response is: “Yes, it’s expensive to get over here, but once you’re here, you can live like a king!”

Think about it.

One Week in Kosovo!

Hi, everyone! Did you miss me over the weekend? I’ve decided on a goal of posting once daily Monday-Friday. I need a break from processing/writing about my life on the weekends.

Yesterday marked my first full week in Kosovo! Yesterday was also the first day I’ve had off from Peace Corps activities. While I was looking forward to having time to myself, I was also nervous about how I would fill that time. I ended up taking a walk around my village alone, calling a friend in the States, reading, and spending time with my host family.

My three host brothers all returned to Pristina last night, going back to jobs and school. All three speak English pretty well, so I’m getting to know them better. The youngest is the friendliest and also speaks the best English. He likes spending time with the bees (my family has 4 cows, several chickens, a cat, and a number of bee hives). He told me, “Bees have complicated lives. They work like humans.”

The middle brother is the one getting married next month. He is a bit reserved, so I probably spent the least amount of time talking to him. The oldest brother took a while to warm up to me, but seems friendly enough. He likes Game of Thrones, so I suspect we’ll get along just fine. He told me he watched the first season in one day. I told him that in the United States, we call that, “binge watching.” He works as an elevator technician, and asked if I am afraid of elevators (no). He assured me that elevator cables, “never, ever, ever break. That only happens in the movies.” Good to know.

My host parents don’t speak any English. After dinner, my host mother asked me something while waving her hand. It took me a moment to figure out she was asking if I wanted to go for a hike in the mountains (yes). Our 12-year-old neighboring cousin came with us, and picked tiny strawberries for me to eat along the way. On our way back, I asked if I could come to his yard to see the puppies (his dog just had a litter of ten).

I had heard pets are not really a thing here in Kosovo, and it’s interesting to see the different attitude people have toward animals. My host mother made a face when she saw me holding the puppy, and afterward, my 12-year-old cousin insisted we wash our hands. (Really, farm kid? You’re worried about touching puppies?)

My family has an outdoor cat. On my first day here, I asked my middle brother the cat’s name, and gave me a strange look and said the cat has no name. My family just calls her “mace,” which is the Albanian word for “cat.” (It sounds like “matzi.”) Here is a picture of Mace:

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(She is no substitute for Sweeney Todd, obviously, but at least I get some pet therapy.)

My host father returned from his trip to Albania last night. I showed him the homework I’ve been working on for Peace Corps. He kept saying, “Bravos, Ah-preel!” when I got something right, and “jo mire” (no good) for things that were incorrect. I’d neglected to fill in part of one worksheet, an exercise on numbers, and he prompted me for answers while filling them in. It was cute. 🙂

Today, and every day for the next three months, I’ll have Peace Corps training all day Monday-Friday, and for half of the day on Saturday. I meet my language teacher and the two other trainees living in my village each morning, and we share a taxi ride into the next largest village. This morning, we set up our local bank accounts, had a break for lunch, and then completed two Peace Corps trainings. On training days, we walk up a steep road to a beautiful hilltop restaurant, and meet in the conference room there.

Here’s a picture of the restaurant’s view:

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Feeling Not Unlike a Puppy at the Pound …

WOW! Today was my most eventful day in the Peace Corps so far (okay, okay, it’s been a whopping 4 days and counting). But today was the day I met my temporary host family! After a morning of training and lunch at the hotel, our group packed up the bus and drove to a school about a half an hours’ drive away. Before we were released into the schoolyard, we were each given a printout with a different clip art picture on it. We were told to look for the family with the matching picture. My picture was:

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Stepping out of that bus was nothing short of terrifying. (One of my fellow volunteers said, “I hope my host family doesn’t hate me.” YEAH, DITTO THAT FEELING.) I had to remind myself that I’m not actually an orphan–I have a loving family … a family that is currently 5,000 miles away. *gulp*

We all crowded onto the school yard, and then the doors to an adjoining building opened and … out came our new families. I spotted an older gentleman also holding a yellow smiley face and when he approached me, I began to panic because he was alone. (Um, am I going to live with him alone? Just the two of us? How is this appropriate?) But then one of our Albanian-speaking Peace Corps staff members stepped forward to introduce us, explaining that the man’s wife and family were at home, and that they had hosted two other volunteers in the past. That made me feel a little better.

Short cut to, me following this man and getting into his car with all of my luggage. My host father speaks very little English. I speak very little Albanian. On the drive, I tried to inquire about his family. He didn’t seem to understand the words “children,” or “kids,” so I mimicked holding a baby. He told me he doesn’t have any babies, but then stated he has 3 sons.

So we drive up to this man’s house, where I meet his wife, who also doesn’t speak any English. After taking my things inside, we come back out to sit on the patio.

Before being matched with our host families, we had to fill out a questionnaire. I mentioned I like to hike, which is partly why I think I was matched with this family. My host brother stated his mother likes to hike, and then said, “Every day when you get home from school, you will go hiking with my mother.” (EVERY DAY? Geez. At least I’ll have tight glutes to look forward to.)

There is so much else I could write, but it is very late and this post is getting long. I met various other family members today, including a 12-year-old cousin/nephew, who speaks English pretty well and with whom I played games like tic-tac-toe and hangman; and my host brother’s fiancé, who speaks the best English of anyone in the family and who is completely lovely.

My host brother and his fiancé are getting married July 30, so, it’ll be my first Kosovar wedding! I was told that not only am I invited (of course), but I will be sitting at the family’s table. This goes to show you the level of kindness and hospitality being extended to me.

Here is a view from the balcony:

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And here is my new bedroom. Finally, I have unpacked!

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Eleanor Roosevelt said you should do one thing every day that scares you. Well, Eleanor, I did ten things today that scared me. And there’s a lot more to come …

First Full Day

The windows in our hotel are similar to those in the dorm room I stayed in while I was in Beijing. So my first thought upon awakening was, “I’m in China,” followed by, “No, I’m in Kosovo.”

(I realize I misspelled Mariah Carey’s name in my last post. I was deliriously tired when I wrote that). I went to sleep around 9:00 p.m. At 2:30, my roommate and I awakened by the call to prayer. I had trouble getting to sleep after that, maybe because I was jet lagged, or maybe because I tend to be a bad sleeper in general. When my alarm rang at 8:00 a.m., I struggled to get out of bed.

We had a full day of training today. It was held onsite, in the hotel conference room. I got to meet my Albanian language coach, with whom I’ll be working for the coming three months.

Ramadan has just begun. People throughout Kosovo will be fasting on different days throughout the month. They don’t consume food or water when the sun is up, which means dinner is after 8:00 p.m. and breakfast can be as early as 2:30 a.m. Peace Corps volunteers are not expected to fast. We were also told it is not rude to eat in front of someone who is fasting, nor is it rude to ask our host families for something to eat.

Below is the view from my hotel window. I took a video of our hotel room to post, but the Internet connection here has been reeeeallly slow today. I’ll upload it later if I’m able.

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